What Happens to a House When The Owner Dies Without a Will in New Jersey?

What Happens to a House When The Owner Dies Without a Will

You have heard the lectures from your estate planning attorney – having an up-to-date last will is crucial. Yet statistics show nearly 70% of Americans risk die without this critical document declaring their intentions.

We get it — thinking about your own mortality feels heavy. So, you end up putting off planning indefinitely until you’re confronted with a tragic loss or diagnosis. But failing to make legal provisions spells disaster for the loved ones left sorting out your affairs.

As estate planning attorneys assisting New Jersey families grappling with loss, we guide countless people exactly where you stand.

The reality is that if you die without a will in New Jersey, your property, including your house, will be distributed according to the state’s intestacy laws, which could mean it goes to relatives you had no intention of leaving it to.

While jointly owned assets do transfer cleanly to survivors, any solely owned property gets complicated fast. Here’s what you need to know.

Only Probate Assets Pass via Intestacy Laws

When someone dies with no will, New Jersey follows “intestate succession” laws dictating who inherits their estate. Rather than personalized wishes, state statute transfers property to spouses, children, and other relatives in priority order.

Intestate law also initiates probate court proceedings. A Judge appoints an estate administrator to inventory assets, settle debts, and distribute inheritance per statutory heirs.

The good news – New Jersey’s inheritance laws only apply to assets that pass through probate. This includes only individually-owned things like:

  • Solely owned houses or land
  • Non-retirement investment accounts
  • Vehicles without transfer-on-death designations
  • Other valuables not jointly owned

Your jointly-held house automatically goes to a surviving spouse, bypassing probate. Life insurance payouts also skip probate, heading straight to chosen beneficiaries. The same for jointly held bank accounts, 401(k)s, trusts, etc. – anything with a surviving co-owner or named successor avoids court processes.

But possessions only titled in your individual name with no recorded successor can trigger state probate limits on who inherits those items. This often affects things like:

  • Antique car collections
  • Inherited jewelry
  • Other solo-owned valuables

So, co-ownership and beneficiary planning protect assets by avoiding probate when you’re gone.

Who Inherits Your Assets When There Is No Will in NJ?

If there is no will, New Jersey law has a standard order of inheritance spelling out who gets what:

  • Surviving Legal Spouse – Widows or widowers receive the first cut of individually owned property after paying debts and expenses through probate. The minimum spousal share equals $50,000 up to a maximum $200,000 allowance.
  • Biological or Legally Adopted Children – Any remaining property gets split equally among all children from the deceased. This extends equally to legally adopted children, too.
  • Parents, Siblings, Nieces/Nephews, Cousins – In absence of spouses or kids, the court gradually awards assets up family trees – first to parents, then siblings if none survive. And eventually, distant cousins can end up with your assets.
  • The State Treasury – In rare cases where someone passes away with no surviving heirs, the government steps in as a last resort and takes possession of the estate’s assets.

The generic inheritance rules quickly become complex for homeowners with blended families or non-traditional arrangements. Clear instructions in a Will are needed to ensure your house goes to the right people.

Your House Inherits Differently Depending on the Type of Ownership

The form of legal ownership of your house and other real estate determines what occurs if you die without an estate plan.

For a married couple, if the property is jointly titled withrights of survivorship,” then it fully transfers to the surviving widow or widower automatically. No probate needed.

However, owning your property solely in your name leads to different outcomes:

  • Your share would be distributed among heirs based on state rules. This may necessitate unwanted partitioning or forced sales.
  • Without clear directives dictating wishes in a will, relatives you hoped to provide for could be disinherited by statutory intestate succession.

When unmarried people co-purchase a property as “tenants in common,” it can seem like a guarantee that the surviving owner will retain the whole thing.

However, tenants in common have no rights of survivorship. If one owner dies without a will, their ownership percentage does not automatically transfer to the surviving co-owner.

Instead, the deceased owner’s interest gets distributed to heirs like children per state probate rules. Now, the heirs and surviving co-owners must navigate messy buyouts, partitioning, or forced sales.

In summary, even with co-ownership, unintended relatives can end up with partial shares without careful estate planning protections backing up intent for unmarried joint asset owners. Titling choices alone fail to adequately keep property within intended hands at death.

Schedule a Consultation Protecting All You Have Earned

While no one likes thinking about mortality before enjoying a full life, being unprepared creates additional hardship for loved ones. Scheduling a consultation helps to be more proactive in ensuring what happens to your assets.

Our team offers consultations to guide New Jersey homeowners in this sensitive planning process every step of the way. We gauge risk factors, property issues, family dynamics, and priorities to coach you in establishing an estate plan that prevents unintended outcomes.

Contact us today to start planning your legacy.

Author Bio

michael s. simone, esq.

Michael Simone is the Founder and Managing Partner of the Simone Law Firm, an estate planning law firm in Cinnaminson, NJ. With more than 20 years of experience in criminal defense, he has represented clients in a wide range of legal matters, including estate planning, elder law, probate, real estate, and business law.

Michael received his Juris Doctor from the Rutgers University School of Law and is a member of the New Jersey Bar Association.

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